South San Francisco police officers will soon be armed with Tasers, a so-called nonlethal weapon that has been praised by some to be more humane than guns and slammed by others for the lack of regulation of its use.
The South San Francisco City Council approved the purchase of over 50 handheld Tasers to add to the four older models in use since 2006. The weapons were funded by a $15,000 grant by the Association of Bay Area Governments and $33,000 of the police department’s money.
The Tasers will arm each officer who is on patrol duty. There are currently 79 officers in the police department. Although South City officers reportedly used Tasers only two or three times in the past two years, Raffaelli said it is important for all officers in the field to carry them as a deterrent.
“If [perpetrators] see it on the officer, they know what it is and all of a sudden they give up, whereas with a regular gun they can give you attitude because they figure you’re not going to shoot them anyway,” he said. “It has a psychological edge to it.”
But Mark Schlosberg, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s Police Practices policy director, said the use of Tasers by police officers often goes unregulated.
“Any police department that uses them should have strong policies, robust reporting requirements, and sufficient oversight,” he said.
Raffaelli said that South City police officers have received training on Tasers and any use of the weapon will be documented and reviewed for abuse by the department heads.
San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill supports the use of Tasers and views the weapons as a better alternative to guns.
“Tasers are a critical improvement and much more humane andsensible way of dealing with problem individuals,” he said.
In the U.S. and Canada alone, 148 people have died after incidents involving police use of Tasers between 1999 and 2005, according to a ACLU report. Schlosberg said that there hasn’t been enough independent research to demonstrate their safety.